Rivers Strips Down Offensive Playbook

WALTHAM, Mass. – Heading into Game 1 of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, Doc Rivers is bringing his team back to the basics. Just two days prior to tip off against the New York Knicks, Boston’s head coach decided to slash his team’s playbook in half. Literally.

“I’m cutting out literally half of our offensive playbook,” Rivers told the media after Friday’s lengthy practice, which lasted about two and a half hours. “I made a choice: I’d rather run a couple things well than a lot of things average or poor.”

Less than a week ago, when the Celtics were in Miami being trounced by the Heat, Rivers was picked up by ABC’s microphones telling his team, to paraphrase, “Keep it simple. Keep the game simple.” When he didn’t see his players return to that level of simplicity, he decided to make the decision for them.

The player who will be affected the most by such a decision is Boston’s All-Star point guard, Rajon Rondo. Rondo is the real-life extension of the Celtics’ coaching staff that makes its way into game action each and every night. He can often be heard and seen instructing his teammates where to be and when to be there.

Even with his incredibly high basketball IQ, which has been acknowledged by coaches and executives around the league, Rondo agrees that Rivers’ playbook slashing is a great decision.

“I think it simplifies everything for us as a team,” chirped the point guard, who sat comfortably on the seat of a workout bike as a group of 20-plus media members surrounded him. “You have to execute down the stretch and if guys are thinking of 12 or 13 plays that we might have to run instead of two or three – I think we'll do better with two or three.”

When a point guard like Rondo, who typically wraps his hands around the offense with ease, supports a move like this, you tend to believe it’s a good one for the team as a whole. And it’s not like Rivers made this move just for the heck of it.

Prior to Thursday and Friday’s practice sessions, Boston hadn’t had had consecutive prep days since its late-season roster overhaul. The Celtics brought in five new players between Feb, 24 and March 6, and at least a couple of them will likely play a key role in a possible championship push. On top of that, Shaquille O’Neal, who will attempt to return to practice on Saturday after watching today's session, and Jermaine O’Neal have had very limited practice time since the calendar turned over to 2011.

“The worst part about the trade was the timing of the trade and the schedule,” said Rivers. “It just didn’t mesh for us. We never had days off, we never had practice time and then we had the injuries.”

All of those factors left the Celtics learning on the fly over the last two months, and it resulted in a mediocre conclusion to the season. Rivers believes that simplifying the playbook and game plan during the postseason will be the move that helps his players to think clearly on the court.

If the move works as planned, it will mean that within a week’s time the head coach was able to heal up his team on multiple levels. First, he chose to give his stars physical rest over the final week of the season. Now he has chosen to strip things down to the nuts and bolts to ease their minds. If there’s a team that’s talented enough to win a seven-game series with only a sliver of its playbook, it has to be this Celtics squad.

While the playbook has been slashed and the players’ minds have been cleared, be certain to understand that five players on this roster have been playing together for four consecutive seasons. Boston’s four All-Stars, along with Glen Davis, know Rivers’ playbook from front to back, and Rondo acknowledged as much today.

“I think the guys that finish the game -- the starting four, including [Glen Davis] -- we've been here four or five years now, so we should know every play that we've run in the last four or five years,” Rondo said before admitting that sometimes those played aren’t executed to perfection.

Still, though, it’s clear that Rivers’ decision to strip the playbook down was made with the goal of clearing Boston’s collective mind at the forefront. That’s not exactly a common move to make with 82 games in the rearview mirror, and a daunting playoff path directly in front of you.

It may not be common practice, but that’s what the Celtics believe is necessary. Just don’t forget that while nuts and bolts will make up the majority of their offensive game plan against the Knicks, their closing lineup will also have plenty of other options in the toolbox during crunch time.